Can’t stop texting and driving? These apps can help

Can't stop yourself? A motorist appears to be texting while driving in this 2010 photo.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Texting and driving?

It’s against the law in 39 states — including California — but that hasn’t stopped many of us from reaching for the phone while we’re on the road. About 100,000 people are texting and driving at any given moment, according to a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. And more than 1 million accidents this year have been caused by distracted drivers, many of them while texting.

Still, the chime of a new text message is enticing and the urge to look at it is almost Pavlovian.

The good news is that if you can’t keep yourself from reading and sending text messages while driving, smartphone apps can help you break the dangerous habit.

One of the most appealing of these apps is DriveMode, a free download from AT&T;, which limits the phone’s functionality while you’re driving.

When DriveMode is activated, it will automatically silence the notification sounds of incoming texts, emails and even your phone calls. It’ll also send an automatic reply to the sender or caller that you’re driving and can’t respond.

You still can receive and make calls for as many as five people if you absolutely need to hear from them. But no texts are allowed. (How many of us reach to respond to a text while driving just so a friend or family member doesn’t think we’re being rude?)

Unfortunately the app is available only for AT&T; subscribers and only for Android and BlackBerry smartphones. A spokeswoman said the company is working on an iPhone app, but no release date is scheduled.

Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile make similar apps, although they are not all free.

If you feel it is essential to get and respond to text messages while driving, consider using a service that will read your text messages to you and allow you to respond by talking. If you have the iPhone 5 or 4S, you can get Siri to help you out. When you get a new text message you can simply ask Siri to read it to you. After she’s read it, you can tell her you’d like to respond and she’ll take down your message and send it. Google Voice Actions provides a similar service for Android users.

If you have an iPhone 4 or 3, or a BlackBerry, you can download the app, which provides a similar service.

There are also apps to help parents of teen drivers, who are more likely to text and drive than any other age group.

A recent survey by NHTSA found that drivers ages 18 to 20 are three times more likely to text and drive than those 25 and older. And a survey sponsored by AT&T; found that 43% of teenagers said they have texted while driving.

If you are the parent of a teenage driver, consider downloading the DriveScribe app, available in Google Play and Apple’s App Store, to your child’s smartphone.

The free app uses a jamming function to block all texts and calls when it is switched to “driver mode.” It also keeps drivers apprised of speed limits and upcoming stop signs, and will even tell a driver to slow down if the car is moving too fast. Paranoid parents can even get text or email alerts when the app detects the vehicle is going faster than the speed limit.

As an incentive for teens to activate the app — rather than being told by their parents — the app developer created a scoring system in which drivers are awarded points and gift cards for safe driving.

An app called OneProtect provides even more control for parents. Once the app is installed on a teen’s phone the parent can turn the app on remotely, making it impossible for a teen to turn the app off without the parents finding out.

But keep in mind that it’s not just kids who are texting and driving — the AT&T; survey found that 41% of teens say they’ve seen their parents text and drive too.

So, look into these apps and decide which is right for you. And in the meantime, throw your phone in the glove compartment while you’re in the car and lock it if you need to. The first step to breaking the texting-while-driving addiction starts with you.


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